Monday, October 3, 2022

Evangeline Paterson*

Evangeline Paterson (1928—2000) is an Irish poet, who grew up in Dublin, and at various points in her life lived in Ireland, Scotland, and England. Irish, English, and American poets she described as influential for her include, Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, Geoffrey Hill, and Seamus Heaney.

She has been noted to be insightful in her observations of people — painting poetic portraits by skilfully expressing the particularities of individual people’s lives. In an interview in 1989 she humbly responded to a question relating to this by saying,
-----“I don't know that poets are more aware than most people,
-----except in spots. I don't imagine I'm more perceptive than
-----any other woman who has lived a long time and read a lot
-----and watched people a lot, except when the poetic function
-----takes over. It's like the shutter of a camera opening, and
-----letting in one flash of really penetrating insight, which
-----is then taken in and worked over by the inner chemistry
-----until a poem comes out. In between these moments of vision,
-----I think we're just as stupid as the rest of humanity.”

Earlier this year, Matthew Stewart contributed a piece to Wild Court (King’s College, London) entitled “‘Marginalised and Pigeonholed’: a re-evaluation of Evangeline Paterson;” he argues there that Paterson “merits wider critical recognition as one of the most outstanding poets of her generation.” He goes on to lament that since the appearance of her New and Selected poems Lucifer, with Angels (1994, Dedalus), her later poems have not been collected into a volume which would make her work more accessible to readers today.

The following poem is from her book Deep Is The Rock (1966).


Weep, weep for those
Who do the work of the Lord
With a high look
And a proud heart.
Their voice is lifted up
In the streets, and their cry is heard.
The bruised reed they break
By their great strength, and the smoking flax
They trample.
Weep not for the quenched
(For their God will hear their cry
And the Lord will come to save them)
But weep, weep for the quenchers
For when the Day of the Lord
Is come, and the vales sing
And the hills clap their hands
And the light shines
Then their eyes shall be opened
On a waste place,
The smoke of the flax bitter
In their nostrils,
Their feet pierced
By broken reed-stems…
Wood, hay, and stubble,
And no grass springing.
And all the birds flown.
Weep, weep for those
Who have made a desert
In the name of the Lord.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Evangeline Paterson: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.